An image continues to inspire

Long ago when I was making cloisonné enameled jewelry,  I made a series of reversible pendants that featured a waterlily on one side and an abstract design on the other.

My inspiration for the waterlily was a watercolor painted by John La Farge in the 1880’s, which is now housed at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.  In recent years this lovely image has been licensed to appear as framed prints, on greeting cards and likely many other media. You’ve likely seen it somewhere, too.

Using his work as my own starting point, I simplified and changed it in many ways to suit my pendant format which was usually a rounded rectangle about and inch by an inch and a half. I created and sold many variations over several years and I hope they’ve held up well and continue to give their owners pleasure. For me, the waterlilies and their more abstract  ‘other sides’ were a joy to make with up to 6 layers of various transparent colors on each side of the fine (pure .999) silver surface. The white metal base allowed light to reflect through the glassy layers, each fired separately in a super hot kiln, creating jewel-like colors that remind one of stained glass.  In addition to layering pure colors, I did a lot of blending and shading of colors in the leaves, flower petals and watery surface, making each piece unique.

Waterlily pendant
One of my waterlily pendants framed with a sterling silver bezel – made in the early 1980’s. I’ll show you the other side – an abstract design – another time.

I no longer make jewelry. I have mixed feelings about this. But I gave most of my tools and supplies to various artists and friends as my business career became my main focus for many years. However, I kept my sketches and a few photos and have recently begun to review them to see which might provide ideas or themes to carry forward.

A few months ago, I found a greeting card bearing John La Farge’s original water lily, which was like seeing an old friend. At about that same time I had signed up to study for a day with an amazing pastel artist, Barbara Benedetti Newton. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I took a few recent sketches and the La Farge card with me to her studio, to use as reference images. I decided to use the water lily for my project that day, in hopes that my being so familiar with his image would allow me to focus more on learning how to handle pastels with panache.

Barbara was generous with her expertise and even let me use a few of her own gorgeous colors to supplement my small pastel supplies. She also showed me how to use a toned pastel paper as a complement to my main colors and as one of the mid values I’d need in the painting. Barbara even gave me samples of other substrates for pastels – a whole new array of materials to consider. And her indoor dust capture system makes it possible to use pastels without breathing in their dust. Genius!

The following series of photos shows the steps Barbara helped me take to create in this medium.

BBN open studio value study phase 1
Step one, a rough sketch with a pastel pencil on an orange toned pastel paper. Above the tape you can see color tests. Then we blocked in the darkest and lightest points. Note the open wire grid below the panel, where a vacuum system captures any falling dust.

With pastels, colors are not mixed on a palette. Variations in color and texture are achieved by layering them in various light or heavy strokes.

BBN open studio lights on
Next I applied more lights and mid tones, leaving some paper showing to provide contrast.
BBN value check phase 2
At this point we took a photo and used the black and white filter to consider whether the values were on target to achieve what I wanted.  Once corrections were made I added final details below.
BBN open studio v3 cropped close
Finished.

The still visible marks and strokes and those final darks and lights make me happy. And it’s not overworked, thanks to Barbara saying “STOP!”  My time with her was a treat and I love knowing that she lives close enough to Seattle for me to consider her a neighbor. Do visit Barbara’s blog for more about her and to see her stunning work. She’s a treasure and her pastel ‘answer book’ is a goldmine for anyone considering this medium.

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